Tennessee basketball hit the court at Thompson-Boling Arena Saturday for a 40-minute scrimmage that was open to the public.
The Vols were divided into two teams and played a full game with three full time officials.
The home team consisting of Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler, Brock Jancek, John Fulkeron, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, Victor Bailey Jr, Cole Morris and Kent Gilbert defeated the away team consisting of Josiah Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Kennedy Chandler, Uros Plavsic, Justin Powell, Handje Tampa, Jahmai Mashack and Isaiah Sulack, 75-65.
Freshmen Jonas Aidoo and Quentin Diboundje didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Aidoo is currently sick and was in street clothes while Diboundje was dressed out but didn’t play.
Here are our scrimmage observations.
Vescovi, Zeigler, Fulkerson, Huntley-Hatfield and Bailey Jr. started for the home team while Chandler, James, Nkamhoua, Powell and Plavsic started for the away team.
The away team led 37-35 at halftime before the home team immediately jumped out to a lead to start the second half. The home team led by five to 10 points for most of the second half.
Zeigler was really, really impressive Saturday. The young freshman was limited in Thursday’s practice but the two times I’ve been able to watch him at full speed he has been really solid. The New York native can score from the perimeter and drive into the paint and earn the tough baskets.
The one word that stands out about Zeigler is tough. He is just tough on both ends of the court and doesn’t give an inch to Kennedy Chandler. So I’m sold on Zeigler being an absolute steal from Rick Barnes’ and his staff and believe Zeigler will be a really good multi-year player.
However, I’m still hesitant to say he’s going to have a huge role on this team. The Long Island native graduated high school a year early and is very small. Zeigler is listed at 5-foot-9, 167 pounds but doesn’t even appear that tall. Zeigler’s defense and ability to adjust to superior talent will determine his role on this team, but Tennessee got a good one there.
Kennedy Chandler earned more ire from Barnes Saturday than he has in either of the other practices the media has been able to attend this season. Barnes appeared unhappy with a few lackadaisical turnovers and really got after Chandler a handful of times.
Even after Tennessee broke its huddle following practice, Barnes kept talking with Chandler for around 10 minutes.
Even with all that said, Chandler had more jaw dropping impressive plays Saturday than I’ve seen from him in the other two practices the media was able to watch. A couple of impressive transition baskets and a three-pointer over a hard hedge on a ball screen stand out.
Chandler is really impressive as a pick-and-roll ball handler. Seems to have a knack for finding the open man. He does need to clean up his turnovers on the action, though.
Saturday was by far the worst shooting day I’ve seen from Justin Powell. Powell wasn’t nearly as efficient as he’s been shooting the three-pointer and earned some criticism from Barnes. Still, Powell hit a pair of corner threes Saturday as the away team tried to mount a second half comeback.
Tennessee’s offense had a few stretches where it struggled like last season but those scoreless stretches were much shorter and there were fewer of them too.
One element I like about this Tennessee team is the number of three-point shooters. I don’t think this will be a great three-point shooting team, but last year— even when the Vols played their four-guard lineup— defenders could sag off Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and still clog the middle. I don’t believe that will be the case for this Tennessee team that should have better shooting depth and always have three to four guys who are liable to hit the open triple.
Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi, Victor Bailey Jr, Zakai Zeigler and Justin Powell all hit multiple triples. Vescovi led the way with three makes from downtown.
On the shooting note, Olivier Nkamhoua has added the three-point shot to his repertoire this offseason. The junior has attempted five triples in his Tennessee career and none last season but shot a handful in the first two practices I watched and went one-of-three on them in Saturday’s scrimmage.
We’ll see what it looks like in games, but Nkamhoua’s shot looks alright and the Finland native could add the same element of floor spacing that Yves Pons did the last two seasons.
Brandon Huntley-Hatfield flashed a few times in the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage. He and Nkamhoua seem pretty evenly matched in practice right now though it’s clear the five-star freshman has the superior talent. I think Tennessee and Huntley-Hatfield are still figuring out exactly how he fits in the offense.
Tennessee has fed the post less this preseason than they have the past few years and that seems to put Huntley-Hatfield in an interesting position within the offense. The 6-foot-10 power forward has impressive touch at the basket and in the 10 to 15 feet range.
Behind Fulkerson, Nkamhoua and Huntley-Hatfield there are big question marks for Tennessee’s post depth. Uros Plavsic has moments where he looks like he can help this team consistently and others where he looks like the guy we’ve seen much of the last two years.
At this point, I’d be surprised if Plavsic earns the consistent bench minutes he was unable to earn last season.
Tennessee basketball legend Ron Slay and baseball legend Chris Burke were both in attendance for the scrimmage.